One Young World
One Young World

If COP17 has to do with survival, why aren’t more people interested?

By Karuna Rana

For those in the climate-change arena, the yearly UN climate-change negotiations remain an important event. The Copenhagen Summit in 2009 was a massive let-down. Last year, Cancun was unexpectedly hopeful and, this year, the climate-change negotiations have arrived to Durban, South Africa. COP17 is perhaps more crucial than previous meetings as the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. The Kyoto Protocol is the only international legally-binding treaty we have for our survival. So when world leaders convene to decide the future of our planet, why shouldn’t we all be interested? Or more specifically, why aren’t more Mauritians interested?

A minuscule number of people know about the existence of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate (UNFCCC), let alone what a COP is or why it is so significant. Given the decisions being made this week to guarantee the survival of humanity, it is unfortunate that communities with the most at stake are also often those who are most underrepresented.

Those who at least know of the UNFCCC meetings have a misconception that it is only world leaders who attend and make decisions, and that “normal” people could never get involved in such a complicated and bureaucratic process. But, in actual fact, civil-society participation often exceeds that of government delegations. In 2009 alone, civil-society delegates outnumbered government officials by 13 482 to 10 591 respectively. This year, once again, young people make up a big number of the civil-society delegation. They are working hard to protect their future and that of future generations — for almost 18 hours every day and on a voluntary basis.

In Mauritius, however, youth are not working hard to safeguard their futures, let alone those of upcoming generations. Not because they do not care, but because the majority are unaware of the adverse effects of climate change. Our formal education system fails to integrate a sense of responsibility towards the environment into the mind-set of each citizen. The lack of opportunities for youth participation in decision-making processes across the country limits what young people think is possible. Mainstream media does not sufficiently cover environmental issues preferring to focus on tantalising infotainment stories. Our current society sees environmentalism as an “uncool” and boring topic. All these things contribute to our nation’s collective lack of understanding of environmental issues. How can we change that?

Environmental action is a mixture of immediate actions such as energy efficiency or tree conservation and behavioural change — the latter being more difficult to achieve. Behavioural change is a slow but necessary process to solving the issue of climate change. Behavioural change is not feasible without instilling environmental awareness values at a young age. Primary education in Mauritius is compulsory and this makes it an ideal platform to actively engage and educate young people.

Physical education and moral values are compulsory subjects, yet wide-ranging environmental ones are not. It is important to teach children healthy lifestyle habits and how to be good citizens. It is equally important to iterate that their responsibilities extend beyond their neighbours to the planet as well.

Education for sustainable development is a (new) concept that integrates environmental protection with social and economic growth education. The ministry of education has highlighted its commitment towards mainstreaming comprehensive sustainability programmes across the nation by 2020.

In a time when Mauritius is already facing the effects of climate change and the need for active climate leadership is more pressing than ever — can we wait any longer?

Building a sustainability generation requires a combination of formal and non-formal education. Long-term educational reform is time consuming and financially intensive, Mauritian youth cannot just wait until 2020, we require access to non-formal programmes, such as skills and capacity-building workshops and hands-on environmental activities, now. Such opportunities should not be limited to people of a certain age or scientific backgrounds.

If project Maurice Ile Durable is to transform Mauritius into the global standard for being a sustainable island, investment will have to be made in the youth who will lead this vision until 2028 and beyond. And that needs to happen now.

Karuna Rana (23) from Mauritius is the One Young World Ambassador Leader for Environment. She is also a contributor to Speak Your Mind and is currently covering the UN climate-change negotiations in Durban, South Africa.

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    • Judith

      It has be noteworthy that radio stations have interviewed Sasol et al but mostly ignored input from NGOs at COP 17. These interviewees are described as being part of Team South Africa. They are all major polluters whose pollution events have been seemingly condoned by DEA.

      The state of our rivers, air and land is such that SA has a crisis on its hands. Major health problems are being ignored; loss of water and food security due to pollution is apparently not a concern to industry or government. It’s business as usual and don’t suggest we make any changes.

      Now, after COP17, we have to mobilise communities, educate them and make the change that must happen come from the grass roots affected people.

    • Rich Brauer

      “Why aren’t more people paying attention, it’s…” yadda yadda yadda.

      People don’t pay attention to COP 17/18/25/47 for one simple reason: The US isn’t on board. Without the world’s largest economy, it’s all, pun intended, hot air.

      Is that a good thing? Is that good public policy? No to both. That’s not the point. To push the American governmental structure to agree to a serious international convention on climate change would require systemic change to American politics. And that’s certainly not going to happen before next November, if ever.

      Without US concurrence, *anything* that comes out of any climate change conference is dead on arrival. It’s wrong. It’s unfortunate. But it’s reality.

    • Lennon

      The problem in SA and many parts of Africa is that the majority of people still live in absolute squalor.

      An example of this is the Albertine Rift (Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda) where the population struggles to survive amid overcrowding and ethnic violence.

      It’s easy enough to say “mobilise” people, but try telling a cattle herder that he can’t feed his cows because it’s a nature reserve and see what sort of response you get.

      The December issue of National Geographic outlines this problem.

    • Andrew

      I must admit that I don’t know too much about what is happening at COP17, but I am very cynical given the outcomes of the previous meetings, the impression that delegates are living the high life at the meeting (hypocritically large carbon footprint) and that delegates were flown in from around the world. Why can’t these climate change meetings walk the talk and have their negotiations through remote conference calling using a satellite linkage? And seeing these ministers of our glorious government on TV ads talking about climate change just leaves a bad taste in my mouth: the obvious lack of education, massive ignorance, political agendas and their hypocrisy in terms of the lavish and therefore unsustainable lives they live. I work within the field of sustainable environmental management, and I see every day how our natural resources are being destroyed. We have progressive environmental laws in some respects, but no one seems particularly concerned about enforcing them. Humans think they are very clever, but when it comes down to bare painful facts, we are no better that ‘r’ strategy bacteria, and we seem incapable of living sustainably.

    • The Creator

      Is it possible that the average person in the street, knowing that they have zero power and that they cannot trust their political or corporate leaders, has simply given up? I read that the latest British public opinion survey shows that just 20% of the British population think that political parties represent their interests. And certainly, the hype around COP17 belied the total failure and capitulation to corruption which the actual meeting has provided.

    • gaven

      See message to the munchkins in Durban from the responsible senator in the US, senator Jim Inhofe.

    • Enough Said

      Good piece Karuna. Yes the populace from all over the world need to be educated. The USA is difficult, because they are all so brain washed by the fossil fuel industry in their mainstream media, many of them are in denial of the human causes of climate change.

    • Enough Said

      Yes @gaven, US Republican senator Jim Inhofe is an absolute clown.

    • Peter Vos

      Maybe it’s because thinking people realise in their heart of hearts that the real problem facing humanity – and the one we should be debating and solving – is overpopulation. Right now we need 3 earths. To live like we all want to would take 6. Puts cow farts in perspective, eh?

    • benzo

      Climate change? Oh, yaaah. It will indeed touch you, me and all around us but……
      The “climate change” movement is run by big business, politicians, scientists and activists and organised by the UN.

      The same UN that organised the Millennium Development Goals to be achieved in 2015. Any chance??

      Policiticians work for the next elections and whispered by big business, scientists need the next research funding from politicians or big business, while activists are somehow financially supported by the businesses who build wind and solar devices.

      Who really cares??

    • Paul Whelan

      It’s refreshing to read a sensible article and one that actually answers the question posed – the fact is, more people aren’t interested because they do not realise (or are not convinced)it’s a matter of survival.

      That’s a very big educational task. It will take a very long time. Govts. will have to take the lead meanwhile and govts. have many reasons to shelve action.

    • Lennon

      The funny thing about COP17 and the UN’s IPCC is that the polices they want to enforce will be nothing but harmful to all of us in the long run.

      Here is a summary of what COP17 wanted “legislated” by Lord Christopher Monckton:–Also-seeks-rights-of-Mother-Earth–2Cdeg-drop-in-global-temps